Contrary to what many women believe, menopause doesn’t lead to weight gain. Instead, the drop in estrogen redirects the process of fat storage in women from the hips to the abdomen, according to a review from the International Menopause Society published in the October 2012 issue of the journal Climateric. This change in the location of accumulating fat isn’t just cosmetic. It also increases women’s risk of diabetes and heart disease.
The reviewers further noted that, at midlife, women tend to gain an average of a pound a year, which they attributed to advancing age and environmental factors. Over time, these gains can add up to overweight and obesity, both of which are associated with health problems including depression, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The weight gain so many women experience after menopause can’t be blamed entirely on hormonal changes. The fact is, as we get older, we need fewer calories because there’s a shift in body composition from lean muscle mass to fat and a consequent slowdown in metabolism. If you want to maintain your weight as you get older and avoid weight gain, you have to cut back your food intake by about 200 calories per day; this applies to men as well as women.
The other part of the equation is exercise. Ample evidence suggests that regular exercise prevents what women view as menopause weight gain. And at this phase of life, physical activity is particularly important for a number of other reasons: weight bearing exercise such as walking can keep your bones and heart strong and also lower your risk of breast cancer. Regular physical activity may also help reduce hot flashes, counter depression, sharpen your thinking, and promote good sleep.